Author’s note: Throughout my life, I have attracted many people who seemed manipulative. Here, I use the term “narcissist” as a loose descriptor in reference to those times where I felt I was duped, mistreated or otherwise taken advantage of. I recognize my own role in these interactions, and hope that sharing my experience will help others cope.
Do you have have a narcissist in your life that is hard to avoid—a boss, neighbor, co-worker or family member? Avoiding the snares of narcissistic manipulators can sometimes feel like trying to walk past a smiling, ink-squirting, hungrily-grasping octopus.
I’ve encountered many narcissistic types in my life and have learned how to not let them bring me down. Here are some examples of what can happen and how to get out of it.
Duped Right Under My Nose
Many times after having an interaction with a charming narcissist, I’d’ have a nagging feeling that I was duped without being able to put my finger on exactly how or why—only to have the painful answer reveal itself later.
Like a car crash in full momentum that couldn’t be stopped, they crossed my path and although something in me would scream “Danger!” my mind and body would go into self-sabotage autopilot. Before I knew it I was opening my mouth saying “Of course I can do that favor for you! (one of many that will overextend me and disrupt my biggest priorities), lend you that money (that you’ll never pay back), give you my number (that you will treat intrusively), write that paper for you (that you’ll take full credit for,)” etc.
They would take what I offered and make out like a bandit, gossiped behind my back or sprinkled some public condescension at very strategic times, leaving me awestruck.
Commitment to Health
After one too many slippery, stinging and exhausting interactions, a determination was born to unhook myself from these kind of people. I knew I had to change deep down because even when I broke up the relationships or switched the jobs, like a cosmic joke I’d find myself with the same people, just different faces in different places. I was the common denominator.
Starting With Me
I came upon the concept of mothering myself from a book called Maps to Ecstasy by Gabrielle Roth, which hit a nerve of truth. I became dedicated to creating habits of self-care for my heart, body and mind every morning. 15 years later, after having loved myself up every morning (through journaling, praying, meditating, gratitude, exercise, whole foods and music), I find a have much better resilience when it comes to dealing with these kind of people.
Here are six ways my morning routine built my resiliency so that I became more capable of handling difficult situations and personalities.
1. Placing the focus (back) on myself.
Before my journey of of self care began I was always “Other-centered.” My attention was always on what others were doing, thinking and feeling. I was like a walking-emotional-thermometer for other people and accommodated my behavior accordingly. I put out the red carpet for the world to have leverage on my most intimate relationship, the one with myself.
According to how others saw me is how I saw myself, and this created total chaos because people change all the time.
The act of putting my health, delight, imagination, spirituality and core nourishment first every day redirected all that Other-centered attention to my internal world. It empowered me through repeated experience to understand I am the biggest influence on my thoughts and feelings.
Today when I go out into the world after having had filled my cup to overflow, clarity and purpose takes precedence in my interactions. My big heart is still there. The sensitive one that is aware of others vibe. The one that aches with love in the face of a kind act or flinches in pain witnessing cruelty, yet my sense of purpose overrides my old reflex of turning into absolute mush.
Discrimination has been cultivated that directs me moment to moment on what is the best use of my time and energy for the greater good. Narcissists are not attracted to people with a strong sense of inner purpose. When in front of a narcissist’s flattery or flagrant condemnation, my flat response tips them off that it’s penetrating effect is limited.
Since the hunger for another’s admiration or approval is no longer there, I’m no longer wearing that vulnerability on my sleeve having had already showered myself with genuine care, respect and kindness way before they approached me.
2) Coming from love instead of fear.
In the past when I would be approached by a narcissist I had a stance of gullibility, ignorance of my value and a core sense of not feeling safe in my own skin. They smelled my extreme self doubt a mile away.
Now at my core is an undeniable love that is palpable in my interactions. There is a foundation that has been laid in my very bones, one brick at a time with the passing years of gentility and kindness for myself. I preserve my energy and time out of a passion for my aspirations, love for and knowledge of myself, not a wounded defensiveness.
I interact from a place of clarity in upholding what is precious to me.
In the past, once my gullibility bubble was popped by a narcissists, I became bitter and resentful wanting revenge for all my heartache. When asked for “a favor” by them, I would snap inappropriately like a delirious woman, further weakening my stance and giving them more fodder to shame me and enhance their image in front of others.
I now know what my limits are in time, energy and capability because I have created a life that is built around those core, most dear priorities to me. Invitations to commit to something that will diminish my upholding those priorities is a clear no. Not a defensive or angry no. Not a no that is internally causing me struggle just to say it, but an objective, unemotional, no-brainer-NO.
The practice of putting myself first every day for years has lent itself to this natural response, it isn’t contrived. I’m not repeating what I read in a book like a script, with my knees knocking like before. My boundaries unlike before are now genuine because I fully feel in my heart of hearts the value of what I’m protecting.
3) Full awareness of how trust is built.
There is a natural dance that takes place between humans in which trust is gradually earned. I was not aware of this dance before. Now, if I stretch myself for someone it’s because we have gone through this dance where space has been given for a gradually maturing trust to blossom. I stretch myself for those relationships where we both take gradually increasing emotional risks. Where many things like favors, support and kindnesses have been exchanged in good measure. Where we have mutually proven that we are worthy stewards of each other’s vulnerabilities and trust.
This has been done not out of obligation, guilt, charm or false sense of dramatic urgency to help, but instead for the basic human sake of connecting. Having knowledge of this dance, having grown my internal health to be able to do the dance with healthy people, I’m no longer easily charmed or coerced into an “urgent” favor or commitment
4) Facing my stuff before they hook into it.
There was an uncomfortable threshold to be passed when I first starting placing attention on what was inside of me. There was much I didn’t want to deal with. I had to face my stuff, my contribution to why my life was the way it was. It was hard.
Insight came that either I face my shit in the privacy of my own reflecting space or it meets me out in the world more dramatically. There is always more to learn about myself and heal. Life will keep revealing it to me. I have been and continue to do the work of facing myself every day. This in effect lending itself to less vulnerabilities for the narcissist’s to hook into by guilting or shaming me into something.
Now when a narcissistic type tries to lay the groundwork to have me do their will by pointing out my faults, they don’t get far because I see it for what it is. Yes, I have faults, I’m familiar with them. I stung myself first in becoming aware of them before they were spotted as fodder for their manipulative ends. I’m actively working on them. I feel safe in my own skin, faults and all because the earnest and accumulated effort to heal those places has been and continues to be invested irrespective of the narcissists opinions.
That work at my foundation makes the historical bait to try to compensate for it have no hold. In the past I was apologetic for everything. In my eyes I was a walking hot mess that was a burden to everyone and willingly jumped on the chance to “make it up” to someone for having to “deal” with me.
5) Discrimination muscle.
I have proven to myself body, heart and mind through repeated, loving action that I have my own back. I didn’t trust myself before. In asking myself the hard questions repeatedly about what I want and where I am with things, I carry with me the gold of self knowledge.
A core sense of worth has grown with discrimination as a natural extension of it.
The muscle of discrimination having been exercised a little every day for those smaller decisions like what foods, exercise or meditations I enjoy most, has grown to influence all my relationships. I began to notice the contrast between life draining interactions and life affirming ones. In time, I understood why and that empowered me to make the necessary changes.
Just as in nature very precious things are not exposed to the elements. Seeds and all very tender things have shells. It is healthy and natural to filter who is worthy of access into our soft, most vulnerable places.
6) Faster rebound.
I’m not a superhuman. I falter and miss things like everyone else. When I do come across a stunningly clever narcissist and I get that energetic punch in the stomach, I now bounce back faster. After having had so much practice, I love myself back to health faster. Taking the hit and moving on is easier knowing I have a deeply satisfying life to look forward to while they continue with their empty shell of a self, hitting up people for shallow kicks.
Author: Lorena Reynoso-Singh
Image: Don Sambandaraksa at Flickr
Editor: Renée Picard